Wow, so for a so-called photographer there has been a dearth of photos and for a blogger a lack of actual writing a.k.a. a blog. Fortunately the few followers I have seem to have the patience of Job when it comes to their expectations (good don’t change that!) or perhaps more cynically they have no expectations at all (also good). Whatever the case may be a story must be told, and hopefully one’s appetite has been whetted after months of anticipation between blog entries. Though I can’t promise not to disappoint, I do come bearing photos this time!
Nb. The previous blog entry “Heart of the swarm” has been updated with photos and captions. There will also be a full length article exclusively on army ants coming in the future (check under articles).
Costa Rica is known as a bird paradise with over 840 species and a reputation for both endemic and resident birds as well as transitory migrants passing from North to South America. It was partly this diversity and abundance which prompted me to bring along my 300mm f/2.8 lens despite my misgivings due to the weight. I was also reticent to switch from macro to what I label as “all that other kind of photography”. Nevertheless I pulled out the lens and spent the morning attempting to photograph birds. Note the operative attempting. There were majestic soaring white ones, and little cheeky yellow ones and daring red ones…okay, so I’m not a bird person and my descriptions could use a little work. You will quickly notice that there are still no bird photos on this blog. All I can say is that my success was…limited. I briefly wondered at the dedication and skill of birders able to capture intimate behaviours as well as stunning in-flight shots. This wonderment persisted all the while I dismantled my tripod, and refitted my camera with macro lens and flash. I could already feel my confidence returning after its brief flight and crash. Much better I decided as I headed up the steep mountain slope leading to the “Valle del Silencio”. As the trail narrowed and the ferns and plants patted me on the back in welcome return, I felt much more at home than the open spaces frequented by birders.
Macro photography for me is a leisurely pursuit, one in which I take my time, scan the foliage, twigs, branches and leaf litter. It is not uncommon for me to travel no more than 2 or 3km in the space of 7 or 8 hours of photography and even less at night. Due to the minuscule size of most subjects going any faster would risk overlooking some of the most interesting specimens, especially those whose entire anatomy is a carefully constructed evolution to confound and bewilder the senses. It is not uncommon for travellers to despair and perceive the jungle as a rich and opulent wasteland. Home only to a few starkly visible species of which they quickly tire and legions of mosquitoes. They trudge through a layer of dead leaves, a lament on their lips.
I urge you to look a little closer and perhaps you’ll rediscover that sense of wonder that you have travelled so far to find.
Having said that, it is not uncommon for me to spend hours walking without spotting more than the most common rainforest residents. My light and eager steps of the morning weighted down by hours of thankless, unproductive searching. However, I take solace in my failure to find a suitable subject of interest. I take it to mean that they are so cunningly camouflaged that if and when I finally do spot them they will be truly remarkable and worthy of the hours of effort.
Sometimes it is nothing but a small rustle, or an imagined movement in one’s peripheral vision. But one quickly learns to trust such signs. I’ll scan the dried and withered leaves trying to pick out the one form desperately trying to remain unseen. My eyes pass over a dead leaf with a spot of fungus. There’s no reason to examine it more closely, though I find myself bending down and peering at it intently. There’s a slight movement. A flutter of wind? Perhaps not. And I thank whatever subconscious impulse compelled me to look closer.
I continue up the trail for about 5hrs, a relentless uphill in the midday heat. It isn’t long before I’ve run out of water. Not to mention that my 1.5 month post-surgical hip isn’t making things any easier on me. My profuse sweating has attracted the attention of some sweat bees that begin to descend on me en masse. Despite their yellow and black aposematic markings they are stingless and so I relent and let them cover my arms, neck, and any other exposed morsel of flesh their tongues can reach. Though in truth I have little choice in the matter as they are so numerous and I am tired enough that they would surely overwhelm any efforts to dispel them.
Eventually I muster the energy to turn back and limp to camp, stopping along the way to take in the majesty of an ethereal landscape. A place of shadow and fog where substance melts to immaterial and swirling mists swallow ones steps. Too theatrical? Perhaps. In reality I was cursing the increased humidity which forced me to wipe the condensation from the lens between every shot.
Along the painfully slow march back to camp I spot a few more creatures demanding my attention.
Back in camp I fall into my hammock and massage my sore feet. I quickly fall asleep, recovering for another night of untold discoveries.